Rating: PG-13 (some disturbing content and brief strong language)
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: March 25, 2012
Directed by: Jessica Yu
Stars: 3 out of 5
“Last Call at the Oasis” is a thought-provoking documentary about the scarcity of water and the planet’s inability to replenish this precious resource as fast as humans can consume it. While documentaries focused on the destruction of natural resources are often filled with scary statistics and apocalyptic undertones, director Jessica Yu handles the subject matter in an informative and enlightening way. The movie is smart, engaging and beautifully shot.
The message of the film is clear. Humans are using too much water, and the planet is on the verge of a crisis. The majority of the documentary focuses on the United States. Las Vegas is known for its entertainment and dazzling night life, but the movie takes the audience beneath that glitzy exterior and reveals some surprising truths. Las Vegas, nestled in the desert, has grown larger than it should have considering the limited water supply. Yu explores how the city is supplied with this essential resource and the challenges faced daily as the occupants continue to use and consume it at the current rate.
California, with its long stretch of coastline and sandy beaches, may not come to mind when one hears of the global water shortage, but this film delves into the state’s struggles among farmers, fishermen and conservationists. Each group needs the water for their own purposes and livelihood, but the limited supply means that some people are going to have to do without. This leads to tension and hostility as each party tries to get a fair share. The state’s once snow-filled mountain tops stand as proof of the limited supply.
After exploring the evidence, Yu switches gears and focuses on the effects of pollution. Biologist Tyrone Hayes reveals the existence of mutated frogs and explains what the contaminated water is doing to the amphibians’ endocrine systems. The subject may be alarming, but the film handles these grim circumstances in an educational and rational way. The evidence is left to speak for itself.
While the majority of the film explores the United States, other areas of the world are also highlighted. In Australia, the water shortage has caused some farms to shut down. The country’s cattle supply has dwindled, and it is facing a prolonged period of drought.
Featured in the film is Erin Brockovich, who continues her battle against industry pollution and preventable cancers. In one Texas town, the viewer is shown water that pours from the faucets in a bright shade of green. She travels the country giving speeches on conservation and encourages citizens to help themselves. The focus shifts to the Environmental Protection Agency and Brockovich’s claim that the agency has not done a sufficient job of cleaning up pollution and addressing the crisis situation. Again, heavy subject matter is handled in a conversational and informative way.
While a film of this nature could come across as negative and pessimistic, “Last Call at the Oasis” delivers the message in a hopeful manner. While a global water crisis would be cause for alarm, humans are more than capable of finding solutions and thriving for generations. As evidence, the film takes viewers to the Middle East. In the midst of conflict, the people have managed to come together and cooperate on a solution to the shortage. It’s inspiring to see these residents put their disagreements aside and collaborate on a solution. The documentary hints that if these people can do it, everyone can. It’s that optimistic theme that flows throughout the entire film and keeps it from becoming a standard fear-inducing movie.
Director Jessica Yu won an Academy Award in 1997 for her work on “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien.” Her style is part investigative journalism and part college professor. While “Last Call at the Oasis” tackles some difficult subjects, it is never scolding or derogatory. The film is colorful and directed with the grace and style Yu is known for. The scenery is breathtaking even while highlighting unsettling images of pollution and genetically altered frogs. Yu’s eye for composition and detail really shine through.
“Last Call at the Oasis” will appeal to many audiences. The film is thoughtful, purposeful and worth seeing. Anyone on the planet who takes water for granted will think twice after watching this documentary, and that’s the point. Yu achieves her goal, and the result is an inspiring film that delivers a clear message with powerful images and stunning camera work.